Testimony Before the Boston School Committee

My name is James Noonan, assistant professor of education at Salem State University and Associate Director of Research for the MA Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment. But I’m speaking tonight as the father of two BPS children and someone who strongly supports the new exam school admissions proposal. 

In 1971, before court-ordered desegregation introduced a 35 percent “set aside” for students from under-represented subgroups, 1.9 percent of students at Boston Latin School were Black. For 20 years, this number grew steadily, peaking at 22.8 percent in 1995, then plummeting after White families filed lawsuits to challenge the race-conscious admissions policy. Last year, just 7.3 percent of BLS’s student body was Black.

This disparity is neither natural nor a coincidence. Rather, the racial hierarchy that systematically benefits White people and disadvantages Black and Brown people was constructed by -- and is sustained by -- people like us and the institutions that serve us, institutions like this committee.

But our good intentions are small comfort when the impact of our actions (or our failure to act) is so clear. Tonight, we are called to repair this harm, and the Working Group proposal works within the constraints, locked in place by the lawsuits filed more than 20 years ago, to do just that.

Finally, observing that there are 33 high school programs in BPS, I worry that our preoccupation with just three plays into the fear that, if families do not win a spot at the exam school of their choice, they will say they are “stuck” with no good alternatives. But last year, the MCIEA survey asked students, “How good is your teacher at helping you learn?” Across the three exam schools, 50.7% responded “quite good” or “extremely good.” Across 18 other high schools for which data was available, the percentage responding “quite good” or “extremely good” was 65.7%.

So, to the parents of future BPS high school students (myself included), I say take heart. There is a place for your child in the Boston Public Schools. And with that reassurance, let’s all work together to make restricted access schools a little less restrictive and a little more fair for everyone.